Category Archives: Information

DHS Provides Grants To Investigate Radicalization

The Department of Homeland Security has awarded a $699,763 grant to terrorism and security researchers to study the cross section of extremism and gaming, Vice reported. That may sound strange, at first, but it is part of a program that The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has started.

The DHS Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program (TVTP) provides funding for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education with funds to establish or enhance capabilities to prevent targeted violence and terrorism. Developing local prevention capabilities is a key element of Goal 3 of the Strategic Framework to Counter Terrorism and Targeted Violence. The TVTP Grant Program provides assistance to implement that goal and develops innovative solutions to prevent terrorism and targeted violence.

You can find a list on the DHS website that shows which groups were given grants to fight extremism and terrorism. One of them is the United States Esports Association.

“The present project is an out-of-school (OST) program for college students that comprises leadership, activism, and development components in relation to competitive video gaming and esports. The leadership component focuses on character-building and development of grit and rigor in students’ academic, personal, and professional lives. The development component focuses on workforce development activities, including skills training and experiential learning with on-the-job and projects-based activities.

The present project achieves resilience to radicalization within local communities and online by leveraging young people’s participation in esports as well as their self-drive and aspirations for success as vehicles for developing, integrating, and delivering a TVTP framework particular to their unique risk profile. As esports grows in cultural impact, comorbid risk factors must be addressed early before bad form sets in. Esports’ immense sociocultural diversity opens the door for malign state and non state actors to radicalize our young people, especially through esports washing by authoritarian regimes. The present project, therefore, is a comprehensive hedge against the emergence of esports-based TVT throughout the United States by matching TVIP efforts to lifespan development and cultural interests”

There is also a grant for The Children’s Hospital Corporation. The goal here is to equip and empower four local school districts to be able to better identify and help youth at risk for radicalization to violence or targeted violence and terrorism. This will be done through the establishment of school-based threat assessment teams (TATs), increasing awareness of signs of violence risk, facilitating referral pathways to the school-based TATs, and supporting robust assessment, management and intervention of referred youth through coordination and connection with Massachusetts Area Prevention (MAP) Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

A grant was given to onePULSE Foundation, which was created to memorialize the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 to ensure Pulse’s legacy of love, acceptance and hope is never lost. Since this attack, onePULSE has been increasing societal awareness of the shooting, and stretching the boundaries on controversial topics and increasing dialogue around the LGBTQ+ community and resilience. onePULSE Academy is the education arm of onePULSE, whose purpose is to promote acceptance and inclusion through innovation, reflective, experiential learning methods. onePULSE aims to positively impact social change at the individual, group, and community levels.

Those are just a few of the groups who received grants from the DHS. You can read about more of them on the DHS website. Personally, I think that this is a really great way to prevent kids and young adults to become radicalized. Sometimes, all it takes to prevent a young person from going down that road is for good people to give them a more positive, healthy, way to live their lives.

Starbucks Introduces Starbucks Odyssey

Starbucks announced Starbucks Odyssey, a new experience powered by Web3 technology that will offer Starbucks Rewards members and Starbucks partners (employees) in the United States the opportunity to earn and purchase digital collectable assets that will unlock new benefits and immersive coffee experiences.

Starbucks claims it is one of the first companies to integrate non-fungible tokens (NFT’s) with an industry-leading loyalty program at scale, while creating a digital community that will enable new ways for Starbucks to engage with its members and partners.

Personally, I’m not quite certain that what Starbucks claims is accurate about being the first to allow people to “unlock new benefits and immersive experiences”.

In August of this year, Small Business Trends reported that Taco Bell and Decentraland had hosted a contest where they chose one couple for a full wedding experience in Decentraland’s digital universe.

Mashable reported earlier this month that Minecraft announced it would not get involved with NFTs, but brands like Gucci and Tiffany are getting into non-fungible tokens, and M&M’s are releasing a Board Apes version of its candy. Mashable also reported that brands believe in NFTs, but consumers don’t.

What does Starbucks Odyssey offer?

According to Starbucks, Starbucks Odyssey will be an extension of Starbucks’ Rewards program that members can access using their Starbucks Rewards login credentials. Once logged in, members can exchange Starbucks Odyssey ‘journeys’, a series of activities, such as playing interactive games or taking on fun challenges to deepen their knowledge of coffee and Starbucks. Members will be rewarded for completing journeys with a digital collectable ‘journey stamp” (NFT).

Members can also purchase ‘limited-edition stamps’ (NFTs) through a built-in marketplace within the Starbucks Odyssey web app experience. Limited-edition stamps will be available for all members to purchase directly with a credit card. No crypto wallet or cryptocurrency will be required – making the Starbucks Odyssey experience a fun and easy way for members to access this new technology and claim an ownership stake in their loyalty to Starbucks.

Each digital collectable stamp will include a point value based on its rarity, and the stamps can be bought or sold among members within the marketplace, with ownership secured on a blockchain. As stamps are collected, members’ points will increase, unlocking access to unique benefits and experiences that have never been offered before. These experiences could range from a virtual espresso martini-making class, to access to unique merchandise and artist collaborations, to invitations events at Starbucks Reserve Roasteries or even trips to Starbucks Hacienda Alscia coffee farm in Costa Rica.

In addition, Starbucks says it is committed to reducing its carbon, water, and waste footprints and is taking a thoughtful and thorough approach as the company works towards the launch of Starbucks Odyssey this year. They will utilize a “proof-of-stake” blockchain technology built by Polygon, which Starbucks claims “uses less energy than first generation “proof-of-work” blockchains.

As for me, I’m really not a fan of NFTs so I won’t be participating in Starbucks Odyssey. If you are a Starbucks Rewards member, you can sign up for the Starbucks Odyssey waitlist starting today.

U.S. SEC To Set Up Offices For Crypto Filings

The U.S. securities regulator will set up two new offices to deal with filings related to crypto assets and the life sciences sector, Reuters reported. According to Reuters, the “Office of Crypto Assets” and the “Office of Industrial Applications and Services” will join seven other existing offices under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) department, which handles corporate disclosure findings.

The Securities And Exchange Commission (SEC) posted a press release titled: “SEC Division of Corporation Finance to Add Industry Offices Focused on Crypto Assets and Industrial Applications and Services”. From the press release (posted September 9, 2022):

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced plans to add an Office of Crypto Assets and an Office of Industrial Applications and Services to the Division of Corporation Finance’s Disclosures Review Program (DRP). The DRP has long had offices to review company filings by issuers. The two new offices will join the seven existing offices that provide focused review of issuer filings and that are grouped by industry experts to further the Division’s work to promote capital formation and protect investors. The DRP anticipates the new offices to be established later this fall…

According to the press release, The Office of Crypto Assets will continue the work currently performed across the DRP to review filings involving crypto assets. Assessing companies and filings to one office will enable the DRP to better focus its resources and expertise to address the unique and evolving filing review issues related to crypto assets.

The Office of Industrial Applications and Services will be responsible for the non-pharma, non-biotech, and non-medical products companies currently assigned to the Office of Life Sciences. In recent years, the life sciences industry has experienced significant growth, which has added to the number of filings and companies assigned to that office. Transitioning a subset of these companies to a separate group will allow the DRP staff to build better specialized expertise.

Reuters reported that cryptocurrencies and other digital assets have soared in popularity over recent years and are getting increasingly intertwined with the regulated financial system, saddling policymakers with monitoring risks in a largely unregulated field. Allegations of money laundering against some crypto firms as well as consumer data violations in the United States, the biggest market for digital assets, have also affected demand.

In March of 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling on the government to examine the risks and benefits of cryptocurrencies, CNBC reported. According to CNBC, that order was signed by President Biden. The order called on federal agencies to take a unified approach to regulation and oversight of digital assets (according to a White House fact sheet).

Personally, I am not surprised that the U.S. federal government wants to put in place specific offices that can review filings of crypto assets. Cryptocurrency, after all, is a form of currency. As such, it appears to fall under rules similar to that of other types of currency or assets.

DoorDash Ends Partnership With Walmart

Business Insider reported that DoorDash is ending its years-long partnership with Walmart of delivering groceries and other products from stores to customers, people close to the matter said.

According to Business Insider, one person close to the situation who requested anonymity because the matter is confidential said DoorDash decided to stop working with the retail giant “as it was not longer mutually beneficial” and to “focus on its long-term customer relationships.” Their identity is known to Insider.

DoorDash sent Walmart a letter to terminate their partnership earlier this month, and gave a 30 day notice, which makes the termination effective in September, the person said.

Walmart posted the following in its Walmart Offers website: Walmart Inc. and DoorDash Inc. are ending their four-year delivery partnership. “We have agreed to part ways,” Walmart said in an email Friday. “We’d like to thank DoorDash for their partnership and support of our customers the past several years.”

A DoorDash spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email: “We’d like to thank Walmart for their partnership and are looking forward to continuing to build and provide support for merchants in the years ahead with our leading Marketplace and Platform offerings.”

What went wrong between DoorDash and Walmart? Business Insider wrote that Walmart is acquiring Delivery Drivers, Inc., the gig-labor management company behind Walmart’s Spark network for an undisclosed amount, a Walmart spokesperson confirmed to Insider.

According to Business Insider, DDI acquisition is the latest of several moves by Walmart to bring more of its logistics network in-house, including acquiring vendor management software firm Volt Systems in early August, last-mile peer-to-peer delivery app JoyRun in 2020, and same-day delivery startup Parcel in 2017.

Business Insider also wrote that The DDI acquisition has been in the works for months and is intended to simplify the driver experience with a single point of contact, according to a DDI spokesperson.

Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported that DoorDash has teamed up with Facebook Marketplace “to make that awkward exchange of items with a stranger a bit easier”. The company said DoorDash Drive, its business-to-business service that provides drivers to merchants through their own website or app, is now in the early stages of testing a service that will allow DoorDash drivers to pick up and drop off Facebook Marketplace items to customers.

In short, it appears that Walmart and DoorDash initially were good partners for each other. As time went by, each company decided to build itself up in an effort to move away from that partnership. Sometimes, things just don’t work out.

Uber Is Ending Its Uber Rewards Program

Uber is ending its free loyalty program, Uber Rewards, so it can turn its attention to its subscription-based Uber One membership, The Verge reported. According to The Verge, Uber sent an email to customers explaining that users can still earn points until the end of August, and that the last day to redeem points is October 31st.

The Verge posted part of that email:

“Thank you for being part of Uber Rewards. It’s been a great ride, but we’ve decided to end our Rewards soon, as we shift our focus to our new Uber One membership program.

“You will still earn points and enjoy Rewards benefits until the end of the month. And there’s still time to get all the rewards you’ve earned: just use your points by October 31. You can redeem them from the Account section of your Uber and Uber Eats apps.

“As a valued member, you’ll also receive 1 free month of Uber One, giving you members-only savings and perks on Uber and Uber Eats. Join Uber One in the Account section of your app.

“Thank you for being a loyal Uber customer.”

What is Uber One? Uber describes it as “One membership to save on Uber and Uber Eats”. It offers the following:

  • Unlimited $0 Delivery Fee on Uber Eats
  • Get 5% off and top-rated drivers on Uber
  • Up to 10% off eligible Uber Eats deliveries and pickup orders
  • Uber One Perks including special offers and promotions

As always, you should read the fine print before deciding if you want pay for Uber One.

It costs $9.99/month or $49.99/year. A free trial of Uber One is available – but only for first time members. Membership will auto-renew every month (if you choose a monthly membership) or every year (if you choose an annual membership) beginning on your enrollment date.

This could mean that a person who used the free trial will automatically be billed for Uber One – until and unless they cancel it. Keep in mind that the free trial doesn’t cost anything – but after the time limit ends – you should expect to be billed for your Uber One membership.

Fortunately, you can cancel your renewable membership. But, you can only cancel your Renewable Membership up to 48 hours prior to your next scheduled payment to avoid further charges. This information was in the fine print at the bottom of the https.// website.

Uber One benefits are available only for eligible stores marked with the Uber One icon. $15 minimum order to receive $0 Delivery fee and up to 10% off from participating non-grocery stores, and $30 minimum on participating grocery stores for $0 Delivery Fee where grocery is available. 

Uber One discounts are not available for rides booked 30 minutes or more in advance. It is also worth noting that Uber One is available within the United States. If you travel outside of the U.S., your Uber One membership might not be accepted.

Slack Is Increasing Prices And Changing Its Free Plan

Slack announced changes that will likely cause some confusion for businesses that use Slack on a regular basis. Slack posted news titled: “Everything you need to know about our first price change and plan updates”. It describes how these changes may affect people.

…today we are announcing our first price change increase since we launched in 2014 – at 75 cents or less per user. This increase will only affect users on our Pro plan. In addition, we’re updating our Free plan to make it easier than ever for users to try out new features. Both changes will go into effect September 1, 2022.

Here are the changes for Free users:

Starting September 1, 2022, customers using the Free plan will get access to clips, which allow anyone to share audio and video messages in Slack as a way to provide asynchronous team or project updates, and reduce the number of meetings needed.

After September 1, 2022, all messages, files, and clips from the last 90 days will be accessible, and those older than 90 days will be hidden. At any time, you can upgrade to a paid plan to unlock access to your workspace’s entire message and file history.

If your free workspace has been invited to use Slack Connect to work with another organization, messages and files older than 90 days in Slack Connect channels will be accessible. However, in Slack Connect direct messages, messages and files older than 90 days will be hidden for teams on the free plan.

Starting September 1, 2022, Workplace Owners and Admins can adjust retention settings automatically delete messages and files older than 90 days. Deletion is permanent: deleted message and files cannot be restored if you upgrade to paid plan later on, and deleted content won’t be included in a workspace data export.

Here are the changes for Pro users:

On September 1, 2022, monthly Pro plans will increase from $8 USD to $8.74 USD per users per month, and annual Pro plans will increase from $6.67 USD to $7.25 USD per user per month, and annual Pro plans will increase from $6.67 USD to $7.25 USD per user per month (pricing for other countries available here).

Current customers on an annual Pro plan can lock in the existing annual rate of $6.67 USD per user per month for another year by early-renewing the annual Pro plan before September 1. Customers currently on a monthly Pro plan can also lock in the existing annual rate for one year by switching to an annual Pro plan before September 1.

Anytime a service decides to change how much it costs to use it, it will require users to make some decisions. Businesses who feel that Slack is extremely useful for their employees might continue to use it (especially if they can lock in the existing annual rate).

In my opinion, it is good that the free plan is staying free. This is important for small businesses who can’t afford the per user per month fee. Overall, there will likely be a learning curve in September, as people try to re-learn what Slack offers at that point.

DFR Says Celsius Network Is “Deeply Insolvent”

Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) said it believes cryptocurrency lender Celsius Network is “deeply insolvent” and does not have assets and liquidity to honor its obligations to customers and other creditors, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters: The crypto lender has been involved in an unregistered securities offering, selling cryptocurrency interest accounts to retail investors including investors in Vermont. Celsius also lacks a money transmitter license and until recently was operating largely without regulatory oversight.

The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) posted information titled: “DFR Encourages Celsius Network Investors To Proceed With Caution”.

Here are some key points from that information:

“Celsius Network is a cryptocurrency company, unlicensed in Vermont, that offered its customers interest-bearing accounts. Celsius promised customers high interest rates (up to 17%) on deposits of cryptocurrencies. On June 12, 2022, Celsius announced that it was pausing all withdrawals, swaps, and transfers between customer accounts. This action impacts hundreds of thousands of customers and billions of dollars of cryptocurrencies, including accounts of some Vermonters.

“The Department believes Celsius is deeply insolvent and lacks the assets and liquidity to honor its obligations to account holders and other creditors. Celsius deployed customer assets as collateral for additional borrowing to pursue leveraged investment strategies. Additionally, some of the assets held by Celsius are illiquid, meaning they may be difficult to sell, and a sale may result in financial losses. The company’s assets and the investments are probably inadequate to cover its outstanding obligations.

“In addition, the Vermont Department of Financial Regulations also stated that Celsius Network had been operating in multiple jurisdictions, including Vermont. The Department believes that Celsius has been engaged in an unregistered securities offering by offering cryptocurrency interests to retail investors. Celsius also lacks a money transmitter license.”

CNBC reported that Celsius has started the process of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after a month of turmoil. CNBC also reported that, In a Wednesday statement, Celsius said it would look to stabilize its business by restructuring in a way “that maximizes value for all stakeholders.” Celsius said it has $167 million in cash on hand to support operations in the meantime.

According to CNBC, “Wednesday’s news marks the latest high-profile crypto bankruptcy as prices plummet.”

Personally, I don’t think people who put a lot of cryptocurrency into Celsius are ever going to be able to obtain it. A bankruptcy filing could potentially mean that Celsius could get out of paying whatever it owed to customers.